Jaz O’Hara: How Social Media Can Save the World

How a 27-year-old girl from the UK is using social networks across the world to help refugees in Europe

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It’s tough tracking down Jasmine “Jaz” O’Hara. We have been trying to get an interview with her for four weeks now. Jessica, a lovely girl, working with Jaz’s organization The Worldwide Tribe (WWT), has been co-ordinating between us for four weeks and we just can’t seem to pin Jaz down. We are in Mumbai, Jessica is based out of the UK, and Jaz is gallivanting all over Europe raising money, resources and awareness for refugees in Europe.

I have almost given up hope of the interview when Jaz sends me an email asking if we can get on the telephone in the next 24 hours. Of course, I say yes. The call turns out to be one of the most interesting ones I have had as a journalist.

Jaz is all of 27. She loves social media. She actually knows how to use social media for the greater good of the world. Consider this: She visited the Jungle in Calais, France where she met and interacted with a large number of Middle East refugees fleeing oppression, for the first time in August 2015. She wrote a post about it when she got home on August 6, 2015 and slept off. When she woke up that post had been shared over 65,000 times and this one-time design student knew that her life had changed forever.

The first Facebook post:

“I did not see this coming. That one Facebook post that I wrote that went viral and raised a lot of money. It also kind of sparked a huge movement of people wanting to donate and volunteer to work in the camp. It is incredible. I could have never foreseen it,” she says.

That spurred her to start The Worldwide Tribe where she and her team use creative ways and social media to get the stories of the refugees in Europe to the rest of the world. In a little more than a year, they have also started grass-roots projects that directly make a difference to the refugees’ lives.

Life in Izmir camp in Turkey
Life in Izmir camp in Turkey

They started off with basic aid, making sure the refugees got food, clothing and other essential items they needed in Calais. At Lesvos in Greece, the team helps rescue the immigrants arriving by boat; in Turkey, they worked with ReVi to help refugees settle in their new home. Now, they are setting up WiFi hotspots in Calais.

Why WiFi? “A massive issue with those people in the camps in boredom. You are dealing with people who are educated and speak English. The reason they are living in the jungle is that they want to get to the UK. They were translators for the British and American army if they are Afghans. They are bored. It is a question of getting through each day at a time and keep yourself together as much as possible while living there,” she says.

Jaz is always on the move. WWT works on three levels: Talks and advocacy, creating content around the refugee crisis, and starting projects to benefit these communities. Jaz has just come off a hectic schedule where she was in Warsaw [Poland] giving a talk, filming a documentary in Greece and Turkey, and installing WiFi in Lebanon.

slicing-tomoatoes

When it comes to social media, Jaz handles it herself. “I try to keep it very raw, very personal very real. I think that personal approach really relates to people. And that is a massive part of how we share our content,” she says. It also helps that she is not seen as a journalist or someone with any agenda. “I don’t have a background in politics, charity or anything, so people relate to the fact that I’m a normal person who went to the Camp and was shocked by what she has experienced. That’s what people connect with,” says Jaz.

WWT is predominantly crowdfunded, including all the projects. Before we got on this call, Jaz had a meeting with Google discussing how they could use the organisation’s time, support and resources to help WWT. “We have a lot of corporations wanting get involved and help where they can. Hopefully that will happen soon,” says Jaz.

All of what WWT has accomplished has been done with a barebones team of four full time members and a bunch of volunteers. They set up a lot of meetings and work with a lot of partners. “We work with a partner who helps with the donation of food and clothes. We run projects on the ground but we don’t do any actual physical donations. It is a massive undertaking. Even with funding you want to have a really good solid understanding of the situation like where best to send the money. So we spend a lot of time on ground in the camps trying to learn as much as we possibly can,” says Jaz.

jaz-in-a-camp

With so many things on her mind, how does Jaz make sure she retains her sanity? “Trauma is infectious. When people share their experiences with you, you do need to protect yourself from it to a certain extent. Because if you are not OK, you can’t help anyone else. This work completely eclipsed and overcame my life and everything I was thinking of doing. I have to give myself a bit of balance and time to process the stories I’m hearing. I’m still learning. I try to make sure I’m eating, sleeping and taking care of myself so I’m able to help other people. If you give everything to other people then there is nothing else, and you don’t want that either. It’s about balance,” she says.

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